“Qualified immunity balances two important interests — the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.”
Qualified immunity is an issue that is receiving unprecedented public attention because of concerns about police abuses of power. This Essay seeks to shed light on the dangers posed by qualified immunity in a different setting: the threats to student and faculty rights that are prevalent at public institutions of higher education. Qualified immunity in its current form — as set forth in two seminal Supreme Court cases, Harlow v. Fitzgerald and Pearson v. Callahan — has both prevented the development of constitutional law in this area and served as a significant impediment to recovery for students and faculty. This Essay explores how the doctrine could be reformed to better promote justice not only for students and faculty but also for anyone deprived of their constitutional rights by public officials.